The Jewish Federation of St. Louis announced that Ruth Lederman, longtime vice president and director of development, is stepping down from the job as of this coming Friday. In addition, associate director Dana DeBlasi will leave her post later this month to take a new executive-level position with Jewish Federations of North America.
“The first thing to know is that we are very well-situated,” said Federation President and CEO Andrew Rehfeld. “We have a tremendously experienced and motivated, very strong staff. The end of the year is always focused on the campaign so while we’re not immediately replacing the director with an interim, we do have an interim director of the campaign.”
Rachel Pereles will take over on a temporary basis to head up JFed’s annual campaign though the directorship itself will remain vacant until a suitable candidate is found.
“[She] comes to us with extensive experience in running a campaign from Atlanta where she was vice-president of the federation,” Rehfeld said of Pereles. “She’s been with our community for 18 months and I’m delighted that we were able to persuade her to come into this role.”
Lederman has been at the local Federation since 1997 and worked at the Boston federation previous to that, said Rehfeld. Calls to Lederman were not returned by press time.
“Ruth gave 24 years of service between here and Boston, 16 in St. Louis,” said Rehfeld. “She really made tremendous contributions and added tremendously to the work that we do.”
Rehfeld also lauded DeBlasi, saying that she had done much for the agency.
“Dana has made a really significant contribution to the community. It’s a real loss that she’s headed out,” he said. “Dana is a great example of what we’re talking about, how Federation can be a place to build and cultivate one’s career.”
That’s because in some ways DeBlasi’s new job grew out of her old one. She will be taking over as director of the donor database system for JFNA. The position was offered to her based on her experiences in heading the local federation’s work on the system as one of several cities involved in a pilot program.
DeBlasi said she’s loved her time at Federation but the national post was a chance she couldn’t pass up.
“I’m just very excited about the opportunity that has been afforded to me,” said DeBlasi, a native Pennsylvanian who originally moved to St. Louis for college. “I’m thrilled to get started.”
She will remain based in St. Louis because the new job will allow her to work from home. There will, however, be significant chances for travel.
“I will be working with federations across the country that are interested in becoming users of the product and in helping 6 to 12 communities per year go live on the project,” she said, explaining that “going live” means training, testing, converting and implementing the new data base management system.
DeBlasi, who has held professional positions with the Federation since 1999, leaves her present job Sept. 24 and begins her new one less than a week later.
Rehfeld said he hopes to continue to strengthen the Federation’s philanthropic mission moving forward.
“We’re going through a process like we always have, making sure the Federation is situated to meet the needs of our communities,” he said. “It’s a dynamic process that’s always under review to make sure we are strongest in service to our community.”
He said that both Lederman’s and DeBlasi’s positions will be replaced and a national search will be conducted for each. He believes that passion for the agency’s mission will be a key characteristic in finding new people.
“St. Louis is really a tremendous place that people want to come and work in,” he said. “In response to other open positions, I had lots of people contacting me about possibilities coming here from around the country. I would expect the same for these positions as well.”
The important thing is to find individuals who can communicate the organization’s purpose in the community.
“[We’re looking for] really dynamic development people, people who can make those kinds of connections with other people, with donors and can help people envision their own philanthropic vision for the community, to help them see Federation as a path to that,” he said.
Rehfeld said there was no set timeline on finding a replacement.
“I believe in hiring slowly and finding the right fit,” he said.
Regardless of when they come, the new hires will arrive at a time of flux for Federation development efforts, which are anchored to a campaign that fell nearly 15 percent over four years from its 2007 highs.
However, last year’s annual effort did see a modest recovery pushing up just over one percent in terms of unrestricted dollars indicating that the effects of the economic downturn may be abating.
The campaign saw a much bigger boost in restricted funds which brought in over $4.2 million in 2012, an increase of two-and-a-half times the previous year’s total. The growth is a reflection of the increasing role that targeted giving is playing in the umbrella organization’s efforts through such programs as Create a Jewish Legacy, which helps synagogues and other Judaic groups to solicit long-term dollars from donors.
The Federation has also shifted its allocations process recently as it tries to channel monies into priorities outlined in the strategic plan. Strategic program grants jumped by almost a fifth in 2012 despite an overall decline in funds.